Nearly every week I receive letters or telephone calls from Christians soliciting our church's involvement in a political issue in our community. The requests range from pressuring public-school board members to fire a homosexual teacher to protesting in front of an abortion clinic.

The people who call are passionate, and they want something done. They want me as a pastor to be a cheerleader for their cause, and they want access to the thousands of people who attend our church. If I decline their request (which I do), they are often upset with me, and in subtle ways they call into question my Christian convictions. Nearly every pastor I know faces this same pressure on a regular basis.

Now, as individual believers we can and should exercise our privilege as citizens in a democracy. Christian citizens have the opportunity to inform themselves on the issues, vote their conscience, run for office, and lobby for legislation.

But the church as the church cannot allow itself to be co-opted by political action; and pastors and others who speak for the church cannot allow themselves to be distracted from the gospel by partisan engagement. As a former board member for the Moral Majority, I know the potential danger of this kind of political activity --the possible jettisoning of the gospel for a political agenda.

The acid test came several years ago when the Grand Rapids City Council passed a Gay Rights Ordinance to protect homosexuals from discrimination. The reaction was immediate and volatile. A group of pastors formed a coalition to collect signatures to force the issue to a public vote, believing that the public would repeal the Gay Rights Ordinance. Petitions and signatures were collected primarily through churches, but our church ...

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